A few days ago I delved once more into my box of oldies and discovered this piece, written when my children were teenagers and I, a working mother, was indulging in a moment of nostalgia, remembering the good old days.
Here, without further ado, is The Slow Demise of Earth Mother:
Have you every noticed how easy it is to fall into the habit of producing a few easily-prepared meals over and over again unless you periodically pull yourself out of the rut and plunge into that vast world of culinary variety?
Our little family of teenagers eats quite simply (and, I suppose, reasonably well) these days, but it’s certainly nothing to compare to the days when I was quite literally Earth Mama, making meals entirely from scratch and putting on the table absolutely nothing that was anything less than nourishing.
Our kids still have tales to tell about such things as the dinner I produced one night long ago, where the pièce de résistance was sautéed brains. To be honest, the thought of what I was ingesting took the edge off even my normally prodigious appetite, and the children flat-out refused to let it touch their lips. Obviously it’s an acquired taste. Still, do you have any idea how nutritious those things are?
And then there was the time I nearly killed my DB after sprinkling one of my homemade soups liberally with brewer’s yeast, an ingredient much touted in the health food world for its extraordinary nutritional properties, on the theory that if a little was good for you, lots and lots had to be way better.
Unfortunately it triggered my husband’s allergy to beer, setting off an asthma attack of frightening proportions that left him hanging off the edge of the bed struggling to take each breath, and scaring me stupid.
I knew he was allergic to beer, but he had stopped drinking it a long time ago and, in a misguided spasm of nutritional enthusiasm, I forgot the small detail that beer equals hops, plus miscellaneous other things, plus brewer’s yeast.
Yes, I know. Capital D Dumb.
(“But” she says, wiping the sweat from her brow, “those are stories for another day.”)
I missed the hippie years because I was busy working, then being married, and later having babies. As a stay-at-home mother with small children in the early 1970s, I memorized everything Adelle Davis preached in her healthy-living books of that era and fed my family accordingly – driven, not by a passion for cooking, but by the need to ensure that my family was as healthy as my cooking could make them.
Did my children not eat candy? you might ask. Or store-bought goodies?
Bite your tongue! They certainly did not, at least not if Earth Mama had any say in the matter. Which was all the time – except when there was a Grandma around. In those days, Grandmas loved to give sweet treats to their grandbabies; so the pleasures of the two Grandmas outweighed my rules every time, to my children’s delight and my private angst.
We had desserts at home, of course: fresh fruit, cookies made with stone-ground wheat and plenty of nuts, healthy cakes, and puddings made with – what else? – non-instant dried skim milk powder in addition to fresh milk. Does anyone else remember non-instant dried skim milk powder? I put that stuff into everything.
Long gone now are the days when Earth Mama made all her own bread (whole grain, of course; none of that store-bought white stuff for Earth Family) and weaned her third baby onto Tiger’s Milk – which, as some of you older folk may remember, was a nauseating concoction of wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, molasses, eggs and incidentally, milk, popularized by Adelle Davis in the ’70s.
Disgusting it may have been (it certainly it never passed my lips; there are some limits, after all), but Number Two Son thrived on it and wasn’t sick a single day in his young life.
Unfortunately, now that the kids are in high school and Earth Mother has become Working Mom, certain habits have fallen by the wayside. Earth Mama never did enjoy cooking all that much, and now, cooking an elaborate meal after a long day at the office? Not a happening thing.
As a result, rarely nowadays does the wonderful scent of fresh-baked bread waft from the oven, seducing everyone within smelling distance into the kitchen for a bite.
And there are almost never any homemade jams, chutneys and pickles to be found on the cupboard shelves any more, except on the rare occasions when Earth Mama suddenly puts in a brief appearance before the Christmas holidays – or when company’s coming.
No, my culinary skills have sadly dwindled to a few favourite recipes, the criteria for “favourite” being: (1) easy, (2) quick to make, (3) reasonably tasty, and last but not entirely least, (4) reasonably healthy.
Even then there are days, I’m forced to admit, when it’s “grab whatever’s in the fridge, toss it together, and hope for the best.”
I recently made a New Year’s resolution to try to produce a modest variety of reasonably appetizing suppers so we don’t have to eat the same four meals for the remainder of their adolescent years. Shortly into the first week of my new regime, Number Two Son casually informed me that he believed he had died and gone to heaven, which gives you some idea of the state of disrepair into which my kitchen habits had fallen.
Sadly, in spite of my resolution, there are still many evenings when I throw some tried-and-true oldie together at the last minute; but at least now the kids ask what’s for supper with something resembling hope in their voices!
And yes, in case you’re wondering, the kids eat junk food now.
Oh well, at least I got them off to a good start.
Update, many years later: Today Number Two Son is a superb cook, producing meals the equal of any five-star restaurant with an aplomb that I can only envy. He actually likes to cook. Says it relaxes him. The other two enjoy cooking as well, for the same reason.
Clearly the cooking genes in my family came from the other side of the tree, because they definitely didn’t come from mine. As for me, if I lived in a house with no kitchen, I’d think I had died and gone to heaven!
[From Wikipedia: Daisie Adelle Davis, popularly known as Adelle Davis, was an American author and nutritionist who became well known in the 1960’s and 70’s as an advocate for specific nutritional stances such as unprocessed food and vitamin supplementation.]
Davis’s books gave me my first clear guidance about nutrition, not just cooking.
Books by Adelle Davis: Let’s Eat Right To Keep Fit; Let’s Get Well; Let’s Cook It Right; Let’s Have Healthy Children; Let’s Stay Healthy; You Can Stay Well.
Seeing these book covers below has been a blast from the past for me. I no longer have all three of them, but Let’s Cook it Right was my bible back in the day, and I still consult it every now and again.
I LOVED this. I shared it with my adopted daughter-like-people who are moms of young kids and think their generation is the first one to be fanatical about this stuff. I never got into this stuff at all, of course, I never had kids either!
Thanks, Martha! I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that the late 60’s and early 70’s might have been the start of what could be called the whole food revolution. We had a vegetable garden for years. I know that in the small town we lived in at the time, the one local health food store (started up by two women concerned about the quality of the food people eat) was an entirely new phenomenon, and was probably considered rather far out by some people. In spite of that, though, it became very successful.
It’s true that (tongue-in-cheek aside) I was a bit fanatical (good word!) when the kids were infants and toddlers, but even though I settled into a more easygoing food lifestyle, I’ve always retained an interest in the nutritional value of the various foods we buy and eat. Sometimes at the grocery checkout, I’m amazed at the junk people fill their carts with. I like that stuff too, but I certainly don’t eat it in those quantities. Different strokes for different folks, eh?
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I dimly remember a theory from the early 70’s about combining foods. I had friends who’d gone “macrobiotic” but it turned out to be very bad for the health of one of them and made him very ill — he was missing something his particular metabolism needed (red meat!). I don’t actually think any of it was new. I think we just thought it was new because we were new. I mean in our parent’s generation supermarkets really WERE new, but for us, no. My grandmother grew all her own food for most of her life. Only in later years did she even buy the meat she ate. I’m sure they never thought about it being “organic” or anything — again, because the chemicals developed in our parents’ generation didn’t exist in my grandparents’ generation. The phenomenon of health food restaurants — I tend to think it’s just because there were more people eating out more often in our generation. I remember my parents taking us out for dinner maybe once in a month, but during my 20s when I was working full time, it was a common thing to have dinner out. I wonder if that was a change because more women were working — I don’t know.
Being a Buddhist whose metabolism requires red meat too, I understand both sides of the theory of macrobiotics (and vegetarianism and veganism and yada yada yada…) and the reality that not everyone can do without meat.
I agree with you: I think the issue of the host of chemicals used in food production probably started after WWII, and our grandmothers’ generation was lucky enough to avoid all that. My grandmother too grew most of her own food, depending on an enormous garden to supply everything but meat. And we all went berry-picking in the summertime for the jams and jellies they were transformed into. It was a different world, for sure. Both grandmothers lived well into their 90’s, too. Then came better living through chemicals…
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Refrigeration changed our world a lot. And airplanes. I remember when fruit and vegetables had seasons and a lot more flavor. And now farmers grow apples that will not get soft and will last longer on the shelf — like Delicious apples you cannot bite into easily and which have no flavor. It’s awful.
Yes, commercial growing operations breed varieties of fruits and veggies with little more in mind than (1) looking good so they’ll sell well and (2) surviving travel to markets across the world. For instance, tomatoes available here in Canada during the cold weather months have much the taste and texture of cardboard, although they sure look pretty.
A practice that’s become popular recently in our part of the country is buying food shares in local farmers’ seasonal crops of produce, enabling them to receive weekly or bi-weekly baskets of fresh garden products, either delivered to their doorsteps or for pickup at particular spots throughout the city during the local growing season. Local-grown food is fresh, tasty, and either organic or grown with a minimum of chemical assistance, say the websites. Of course it’s only available during the local growing season, and it’s far from cheap, but I imagine it’s healthier than grocery produce for those who can afford it. We have a fair number of wealthy locavores here, and they have the money and the clout to make their wishes known.
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Out here, in summer, we have farmer’s markets which makes sense since we have LOT of farmers! 🙂 In San Diego I had friends who did the food co-op thing and had baskets or boxes of produce delivered. Where I lived, again, out in the back of beyond in San Diego County, there were farmers who set up stands whenever they had anything to sell. For my part — I am not too serious about any of it at this point in my life. I usually grow tomatoes and Swiss chard (my favorite) and I have two raspberry bushes now. One year — in my early 30s — I had a HUGE garden and it was a lot of fun and I found it nothing short of miraculous that I got actual cantaloup and beautiful red cabbage way too pretty to eat, actually. But, we ate it. One thing I’m very serious about is apples — and last fall there was a man selling chiles, pinon and apples from his Johnathon apple tree. Oh my. 🙂
Pinon = pine nuts, right? YUM! A very expensive delicacy around here! 🙂
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Expensive here, too, but probably cheaper than there! 🙂
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